Murder suspect is one of four L.A. County inmates wrongly released
A man accused of murder in a 2010 Baldwin Park gang shooting is one of four jail inmates the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has mistakenly released this year, officials revealed Tuesday.
According to the department’s own investigation, missing paperwork resulted in the erroneous release of Johnny Mata, sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said. The department subsequently noted understaffing in the clerical operations and made a decision to hire more clerical staff and to add an additional supervisor to oversee the paperwork process, he said.
The department is also implementing a color-coding system to note high-risk inmates.
“There are no excuses. We are taking every step possible to ensure this kind of error doesn’t occur again,” Whitmore said. “We are installing systems to triple and quadruple check.”
Mata, 33, a documented El Monte gang member, was set free from the sheriff’s Inmate Reception Center in downtown Los Angeles on April 4. Sheriff’s officials did not announce that he was a fugitive until last week.
Mata had appeared that same day in a Pomona courtroom, where an attempted murder charge was dismissed because authorities planned to combine it with a murder charge filed against him on March 26, according to Whitmore.
The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office did indeed file the murder charge, but a processing clerk failed to enter a “hold” for Mata in the computer.
Mata was returned from the Pomona courthouse to the Inmate Reception Center, where he was processed and released because the sheriff’s system showed no pending charges, Whitmore said.
“He is the first high-risk inmate to be released wrongly,” Whitmore said. “Four inmates have been wrongly released this year and none of the others are high-risk and all [three] have been recaptured.”
One of those inmates, Jason Gatewood, received an 851-day sentence for identity theft but was wrongly released when an Orange County law enforcement agency detention request was ignored. He was rearrested Jan. 3, the day after officials noticed him missing.
Valerie Ray had been arrested on suspicion of grand theft but was released Jan. 29 after a clerk missed a bail enhancement. Whitmore said Ray was detained again Feb. 1.
Charles Lee was arrested by Pomona police and appeared before a parole board for a violation. The board on Feb. 25 sentenced Lee to 114 days in jail for a parole violation but a jail clerk wrongly entered Feb. 25 as his release date and he was let go. Lee was recaptured two days later, Whitmore said.
In 2012, the department released 142,000 inmates, with seven mistaken releases, Whitmore said.
The department’s Major Crimes Unit has been searching for Mata.
Authorities were trying to find Mata without “going to the public, because we feared it would drive Mr. Mata underground,” sheriff’s homicide Lt. Steve Jauch said at a news conference Tuesday. “We have some information that some folks out there know where he is.”
Investigators said they did notify the victim’s family and others involved in the case about Mata’s mistaken release.
“Obviously, we are concerned where he is,” Whitmore said.
Nicole Nishida, a department spokeswoman, said authorities did not immediately reveal Mata’s accidental release because the unit was chasing leads to find him. The department opted to go public when it exhausted those leads, she said.
Sheriff’s officials have now notified “all of Los Angeles County law enforcement” to help them locate Mata, Nishida added.
She said Mata has been charged in the killing of David DeAnda, who was shot to death Dec. 24, 2010, in Baldwin Park. According to a sheriff’s news release, DeAnda was standing with two other people in a driveway when a man approached and shot him several times.
Mata is described as Latino, with brown hair and brown eyes. He is 6 feet, 1 inch tall and weighs 197 pounds. He has a tattoo across his chest reading EM Flores — a reference to the El Monte Flores gang. Anyone with information is asked to call sheriff’s homicide detectives at (323) 890-5500.
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